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As signature deadline nears, campaign to legalize marijuana in Missouri seeks cash, canvassers

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JEFFERSON CITY — The campaign to fully legalize marijuana in Missouri said this week it needs twice as many signatures as it has already secured in order to guarantee a spot on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The Legal Missouri 2022 campaign must turn in about 170,000 valid signatures from around the state by May 8, in roughly three weeks.

Campaign backers, in a message Wednesday through an industry newsletter, urged cannabis business owners to devote money and staff to the effort.

“We have already collected and processed over 170,000 signatures,” the newsletter said, “but still need to collect at least that many more in the remaining weeks to ensure we have cushion and certainty we’re on the ballot.”

The message also says the “effort will require collecting close to 300,000 signatures to ensure” a place on the ballot.

John Payne, campaign manager for Legal Missouri, told the Post-Dispatch on Friday the campaign expected to secure its 200,000th signature this weekend. He said the “tremendous reception” made it “all-but certain” the campaign would make the ballot.

But the industry newsletter didn’t express such confidence.

“To ensure our mutual success, we need more people in the field carrying the petition and asking voters to sign,” it said.

The newsletter asks every dispensary to devote one full-time employee to canvassing five days a week over the next three weeks. It said cultivators should marshal two full-time employees for signature-gathering duties.

The campaign also wanted more money.

“Whether $500 or $5K, please donate today,” said John Pennington, CEO of Proper Cannabis, in the newsletter. “If you are benefiting from this industry and will benefit from broader expansion via adult use, then you should DONATE NOW.”

New Growth Horizon, which does business as Proper Cannabis, is one of the top backers of Legal Missouri, sending $340,000 in large donations to the effort since last year, according to a review of Missouri Ethics Commission records.

Other top donors include Good Day Farm, which put $700,000 toward the effort, and BD Health Ventures, doing business as Flora Farms, which has given nearly $350,000, according to ethics commission records.

Legal Missouri reported a total of $230,000 in large contributions on Thursday from six entities, including Earth City-based BeLeaf Medical, which gave $50,000.

On Friday morning, the campaign reported $735,000 in new contributions from six entities, including $200,000 from Focus Partners Manchester, doing business as Greenlight.

The newsletter urged business owners to familiarize themselves with the petition, which it said would allow current medical marijuana businesses to convert their licenses to full ones.

“Existing license holders would be able to convert medical-only facilities to businesses serving both medical patients and adult consumers,” the newsletter said.

The newsletter also asked dispensaries to sign up as signature “hubs” for the campaign, noting “southwest Missouri in particular is a location where we need to bolster our participation.”

To make the ballot, canvassers must collect signatures from at least 8% of voters in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts — or about 170,000 valid signatures in total. Many cannabis activists have mobilized against Legal Missouri, saying it locks in a “monopoly” created with the rollout of the medical marijuana program in 2020.

The state Department of Health and Senior Services initially issued 338 licenses to sell, cultivate and process marijuana, the minimum required under the voter-approved constitutional amendment authorizing the program in 2018.

“If you live in Missouri’s Seventh Congressional District we need your help!” Eapen Thampy, a lobbyist who pleaded guilty in 2020 to federal marijuana distribution charges, said in email blasts to cannabis activists. “If there are people or businesses collecting signatures for this Corrupt monopoly campaign, please share this information with them and ask them to stop!” 

The Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, or MoCannTrade, rejects the notion that the medical marijuana industry is limited in a way that harms patient access.

In a news release last week, MoCannTrade touted monthly dispensary sales figures, which exceeded $30 million for the first time in March. The group attributed the increase to “patient-friendly” prices as more stores open and more products become available.

MoCannTrade said last week that 188 dispensaries were open across the state — more than three times as many as in Illinois, which had 56 dispensaries open, for both adult-use and medical customers.

On the other end of the spectrum, Oklahoma, which critics deride as the “Wild West” of cannabis legalization, had issued more than 2,000 medical marijuana dispensary licenses as of January, according to state figures.

In Missouri, Thampy and others are backing the “Cannabis Freedom Act,” which is currently before the House Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters.

In its current form, the legislation requires the state to issue twice as many licenses as were issued under the medical marijuana program.

Christofanelli said the legislation “will come up for a vote on Tuesday.”

With four weeks remaining in the legislative session, the plan still must clear the House to advance to the Senate.

In the Senate, where dysfunction reigns, it would be easier for opponents to kill the bill through a filibuster — if GOP lawmakers even decide to advance the legislation to the floor for debate.

The legislation is House Bill 2704.

Originally posted at 11 a.m. Friday, April 15. 

‘We have already collected and processed over 170,000 signatures but still need to collect at least that many more in the remaining weeks to ensure we have cushion and certainty we’re on the ballot.’

Legal Missouri 2022 campaign newsletter

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